Content warning: This article mentions physical and sexual abuse.
There are very few times in my life when I have ever felt safe. What safety looks like to me constantly contradicts itself. I feel safe when I am with those close to me. But, at the same time, the comfort they provide is fleeting because I am constantly on guard. When I was younger, I would find safety in my grandfather’s arms, a man who showed me never-ending kindness and taught me the meaning of unconditional love. That all changed the day I watched him die of a heart attack when I was 5. The man who once protected me and kept me safe from my mother, who suffered from schizophrenia, was no longer there. My sanctuary was gone. Without him, my mother began to beat me almost every day for seven years. When I was 12, she attempted to end my life by trying to cut off my hands and bash my head in. I was placed into foster care two weeks later.
My mother was not the only one in the family who abused me. I grew up with three older brothers, who I admired. I wanted to do everything they did. I felt safe when I was with them. I would see them every weekend. It was a place where I could go to get away from my mother’s abuse. It was not until my 15-year-old brother started sexually assaulting me when I was 8, that I realized I was not genuinely safe with them. He sexually assaulted me almost every weekend for over two years until he went into the military. What used to be my safe haven away from my mother turned into a cruel nightmare.
The only other place left for me to escape my mother was school. For some people, school is a refuge in the midst of chaos, but not for me. The children at school viscously bullied me and came up with sadistic rumors that they spread all around. Even the few people I called my friends would laugh at me and affirm that the false rumors were true. The average weekday for me included waking up and trying to make as little noise as possible to not wake up my mother, going to school where I would get bullied, and then going home to my mother who would beat me.
Foster care helped to take me away from my mother, but the trauma she inflicted did not go with her. After a year at my first placement, my grandmother decided to take guardianship over me, and I moved back home with her. Although my grandmother never did anything to hurt me, I was back in the house that was only filled with terrible memories. Every second I was home, I was constantly reminded of my trauma, which made it impossible to feel safe, even with my mother no longer living there. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the trauma I would face while living there.
I became homeschooled when I was 14 because the bullying had gotten to a point where I would have panic attacks at school. After I left school, the close friends, who I felt safe with, betrayed my trust. My best friend at the time sexually harassed me in my sleep. Another friend sexually assaulted me, causing me to become pregnant, and later suffer a miscarriage, at 15. When I was 18, I started going to community college. I met someone who took advantage of me by physically, emotionally, and sexually abusing me. The COVID-19 pandemic also isolated and trapped me in an abusive relationship until I finally got away from them when I moved to Berkeley. There was not a single place or person I could go to for safety. At every turn, people took advantage of my kindness and hurt me.
I no longer trust the feeling of safety. Every time I let my guard down and begin to feel safe, people have hurt and abused me, making it hard for me to open up and trust people again. Today, I am probably the closest I have ever been to feeling safe. My decision to transfer to the University of California, Berkeley has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Since moving here, the people I have met have done nothing but support me and be there for me. Although it will be a long process for me to finally learn to trust the feeling of safety, the people in my life currently are a great start to my journey of learning what it means to feel safe.